I performed this piece in front of an audience of Penn students, faculty, and staff in April 2013. A special thanks to Penn Monologues & Leslie Krivo-Kaufman, who performed this piece for me on opening night when I was unavailable.
Up until now, I have been polite about my emotions.
But I don’t want to be polite anymore, or politically correct.
I am angry.
And I want people to know about it. And I want to challenge all of you, sitting in this room, to take responsibility for changing it.
In a parallel universe, I would be a fucking poster child.
Leanne Gale, daughter of Rabbi Jeffrey Gale.
Alumna of Solomon Schechter Day School.
Fluent in Hebrew.
Co-Chair of a denominational community at Penn Hillel.
Editor-in-Chief of an undergraduate journal on Israel and Jewish thought.
(Are you bored yet because I’m not done!)
Minor in Jewish Studies.
Study abroad student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
More Israeli family than American family.
Those are my credentials. That’s my street cred in the Jewish community, if you will. It doesn’t get much better than that. And I’ve gotten disgustingly used to rattling them off.
Here are some of the things that I’ve been called in my time at Penn:
A self-hating Jew.
A de-legitimizer of the state of Israel.
A naïve idealist.
A useful idiot.
A Nazi. A Nazi.
My family died in the Holocaust. But doesn’t it feel disgusting to use that as another credential?
So what did I do? What was my crime, that all of my hard earned credentials failed me? Well, I dared to join a movement that expresses my values as a human being and a Jewish person. A nefarious organization that considers itself pro-Israel and pro-peace at the same time, which apparently is tantamount to treason.
But this isn’t a monologue about politics or what it means to be pro-Israel. No. This is a monologue about my life. Those things that I listed before, as credentials, my Jewish resume so to speak…they’re not really credentials. Those things are actually who I am. Those things are my relationships. Those things are the lens through which I look at the world.
In the face of personal attacks and suspicions of my pro-Israel-ness, I like to bring up my relationship with my cousin, a soldier in the Israeli army. But Bar should not be a figure on some sort of list that I wish would be enough to convince my community that I am kosher. He is a human being, the impossibly good looking 23 year old who cooks pasta with melted chocolate for breakfast on Friday mornings and shared his apartment with me when I was afraid of the spider that looked like a tarantula in my bathroom.
The fact that I have taken on so many leadership roles in the Reform Jewish Community at Penn should not be some marker of my commitment to Judaism, available for public vetting; its about that moment when the sun sets across from the windows of the Harrison Library on the second floor of Hillel on a Friday night while we’re singing L’cha Dodi, strumming the guitar, and I am welcoming Shabbat surrounded by some of my closest friends.
And the fact that I speak Hebrew should not be proof of my knowledge or my right to have an opinion; its just that I love the feel of the syllables in my mouth and the way that the cadences of the letters remind me of my Hebrew teacher growing up, who loved me like a daughter.
I am so tired of proving myself. Of using my life in some sort of warped way to convince people that I love them. To convince my community that I am in love with it. And to be smacked in the face, time after time.
But this also isn’t a sob story about me, begging you, begging everyone to just accept me already. No. This is about love. This is about the fact that I look at you, and when I say you I mean the Jewish community, I mean my friends, I mean my parents, I mean my mentors, I look at you and see an unbearable ugliness. It sears into me. And I am partially responsible for it. We all are.
The ugliness is about the fact that my first kiss was with a beautiful, Muslim, Arab nineteen year old named Youssef who broke my heart. And when I came back to Penn after that summer, I was afraid of what my peers would think if they found out.
The ugliness is about the fact that I joined 600 Israelis this summer at a protest in the West Bank to save Susya, a small Palestinian village, from demolition and sputtered as Israeli soldiers, soldiers who could have been my cousins, sprayed me with tear gas. And when I returned to Penn, the Palestinian children who held my hands at that protest, who asked me if everything would be okay, were buried under talking points. I imagine those little girls, sitting in their home right now, wearing their little pink shirts, entirely unaware that halfway around the world my friends are calling them, and their friends, collateral damage.
The ugliness is about the fact that no matter how hard I try to fight for what I was taught is Jewish, is social justice, is righteousness, I am told to shut the hell up.
So I ask. Please. Look at me.
Look at me, and think about what kind of community we are. What kind of community we can be. This isn’t just for the Jewish community—it’s a challenge to every single community represented in this room, and for all of us as a Penn community, to figure out how we can honor each other even if we disagree. To figure out how we can overcome our knee-jerk reactions and prejudices to build a discourse of respect, of curiosity for the experiences that inform why people feel the way they feel. Because if we can’t do that, at least for those of us who care enough to say something about anything, we are all going to remain very, very angry.
And to my own community: I love you. I am inseparable part of you. And as much as you try to peel me off like some kind of insect, I will be sticking around.